Today’s post comes from attorney Kristina B. Thompson.

“What are my rights after I get hurt at work?” It’s the first question an injured worker thinks about.

Once a workers’ compensation claim is filed on a Form 18 with the North Carolina Industrial Commission, the insurance company must accept or deny the claim (see our prior blog about starting a claim). If the claim is accepted, the injured worker is entitled to disability (at 66.66% of their average weekly wage which they were earning before they got hurt) and medical care (including medical transportation costs for trips over 20 miles).

Although the employer’s insurance company has the right to initially choose your doctor to treat your compensable injury, the insurance company’s right to direct medical care is not unlimited. Once a doctor is chosen by the carrier, that doctor is your “authorized treating physician” and should guide your medical treatment plan. Generally, the insurance company cannot unilaterally change the authorized treating doctor without your consent or the consent of the Industrial Commission.

Many injured workers ask:  “Can’t I just choose my own doctor?”

This question is especially appropriate when a person has treated with, for example, a back doctor in the past, and suffers from an aggravation of back injury at work. Obviously, the employee would prefer to see the doctor who treated him or her in the past. There is an established relationship. This can be a challenging issue for many injured workers.

On an interesting and related note, a new study shows that insurance companies could actually save money if they allowed the injured worker more of a voice in choosing the doctor. A recent study anticipated to be published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine conducted by Tax Xg, et al, and cited in Thomas Robinson’s blog, found that employer controlled medical care led to increased attorney involvement, which increased overall claim costs. Based on our firm’s experience, over the past 40 years, this study makes a lot of sense. If injured workers could select their own healthcare providers it would save many of them time, get them back to work faster, and decrease employer / insurance company costs.